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Largest Number of Africans in China Live in South of Country

China's continuing economic boom has attracted a growing number of immigrants from around the world, who mostly come to do business. Africans are no exception. Stephanie Ho recently visited the southern commercial city of Guangzhou and reports on the African immigrants who live there.

Thousands of Africans flock to the Sunday afternoon English service at Guangzhou's Sacred Heart Stone House cathedral. The church is packed, and wardens at the door keep stragglers from entering the overflowing sanctuary after the service has begun.

In 2007, the Ministry of Commerce says China surpassed France to become Africa's number one trading partner. Commerce between China and Africa reached nearly $107 billion last year, a historic high. Many of the estimated 20,000 Africans who now live in Guangzhou are there because of the growing business opportunities.

But few want to talk to reporters. One reason may be that they themselves have dubious legal status.

College student Meng Jia and several of her classmates are working on a study of foreigners in Guangzhou.

"In our country, we still lack a real policy for dealing with international immigrants," she said. "So, many black people who are currently living here have an awkward situation."

Another Guangzhou resident, Mr. Shao, has driven a taxi for six years. He says many ordinary people do not have a good impression of Africans. But he says he sees the growing number of Africans in Guangzhou as a good thing for China.

"This means we have more and more communication with people from all over the world," he said. "If more foreigners come to China, we could feel China is doing really well."

Rwanda is among the growing number of African nations that have opened a trade office in Shenzhen, an economic boomtown next to Guangzhou. The office has gone from one employee to five, since it opened four years ago.

Rwandan Ambassador to China, Ben Rugangazi, says Rwandans in southern China bond comfortably and easily with other Africans.

"To the African, when he reaches Guangzhou and he's in a society that is very different culturally and linguistically, and he sees an African with whom he can easily communicate and he can identify himself with, you know, this is a feeling of a sense of oneness," he noted.

The Africans in Guangzhou come from all over the continent, and bring their customs and traditions along with them. People from Congo, Nigeria and Mali have the largest representation in southern China.

But, while Africans apparently get along well with each other, college student Meng Jia says they have little interaction with the local Chinese.

"They live separated from Guangzhou residents, so these two groups don't know much about each other," she added.

She says studies like hers seek to help Chinese people better understand the lives of Africans in China. This topic is taking on added urgency, as the number of African residents in southern China continues to grow.